Broadcast Journalist Deborah Norville Stitched the Perfect Career Path to Satisfy Her Curiosity

UPDATED: May 20, 2024
PUBLISHED: May 16, 2024
Deborah Norville

Growing up, Deborah Norville was the student who always raised her hand and asked the questions “why” and “how.” Her curious nature motivated her to choose a career in getting paid for asking those questions. 

Today, she’s renowned for her preeminent work in broadcast journalism. Norville holds the record for being one of the longest-established female broadcasters in commercial television across the nation, spanning major networks such as CBS, NBC, MSNBC and ABC. 

Her talent for capturing audiences with a bold and refreshing reporting style has led her to cover decades of significant stories, ranging from the 9/11 attacks to the democratic rise in Romania. She even spent a week in the Davidson County Jail in Lexington, North Carolina, to uncover why the incarceration rate in local jails kept increasing.

This two-time Emmy-winning broadcast journalist is the current news anchor for “Inside Edition,” the bestselling author of several titles, including The Power of Respect, and a burgeoning artist in textile work. But before her career took her to the newsroom, Norville’s original plan was to study law. 

Deborah Norville had an undeniable calling

The spark that ignited her monumental career began Norville’s senior year of high school. She signed up for the Whitfield Junior Miss Pageant, seeing an opportunity to win scholarship money for college. 

“Back then, Junior Miss was a pretty big deal,” she says. “It was a contest for high school senior girls—no bathing suit, no beauty stuff. Half [of] your score was your judge’s interview and your grade transcript. So, that was pretty easy. But you had to have a talent, and I was too frightened to sing in front of people. I don’t play the piano. I can’t tap dance… So, the only other thing I could think of to do for a talent was sewing.” 

The day of the pageant, she got up on stage and modeled the clothes she made using a slideshow she and her father had made. It worked. Norville won the local pageant, the scholarship money and the state competition, which meant she advanced to nationals. Although she didn’t win the National Junior Miss title, another aspect of the competition caught her eye. 

SUCCESS+ Subscription offer

“I saw the TV people; I saw the guys doing the production… setup, building the sets, rigging the cameras and the lights and all that, and they were working such long hours, yet they seemed [to be] in such good spirits, even at the end of a long day. I thought, ‘man, there’s something about this TV thing that just looks fun,’” she recalls. 

Her dream of pursuing a law degree quickly shifted to a new aspiration: to work in television. “I really wanted to be a lawyer because I was into research. And I thought, well, if you took research and you took production, you’d be a TV reporter,” she explains. 

Getting her first story

Norville was a college student covering the last day of the legislative session for her internship on a television program when she was spotted. 

“The wife of the guy who ran the CBS affiliate in Atlanta was flipping channels when she saw me, and she said, ‘Hey, Shelly, look at this girl.’ And this was a guy who had prided himself on taking people who weren’t TV people and turning them into television reporters or anchors,” she says. 

When she was called in for an interview, they wanted her to be the weekend weather reporter. “I was like, ‘Oh, God, I don’t want to be the weather girl.’ But it was a foot in the door. So, I took the meeting,” she says. Luckily, it turned in her favor when the station selected someone else to be the weather girl, and Norville was hired on as an intern at WAGA-TV Atlanta. 

It wasn’t as glamorous as she had anticipated in the first few days. The loud radios gave her a headache, and she was a little bored sitting with the producers.

“The third day, they were low on reporters, and they said, ‘Norville, go cover the story,’” she says. “Now, I had not yet had news writing at the University of Georgia. So part of me thought, ‘You know, I should tell them I have no idea how to cover a story. I should be honest with them.’ But the other voice in my head, the one that kind of has the Brooklyn accent with the you know, the pitchfork and the little horns, said, ‘Keep quiet. It’s not important.’ So, I didn’t tell him [that] I didn’t have any clue how to report a story.” 

So she drove out to the DeKalb County fireman’s family picnic with the cameraman, narrated her initial story, conducted an interview with the fire chief and concluded with the sign off, “Debbie Norville, TV 5 Eyewitness News.”

Deborah Norville’s entrepreneurial side 

While Norville’s talent for sewing didn’t win her the National Junior Miss title, it still remains one of her passions. Cross-stitching, needlepoint and embroidery are therapeutic for her and are the cornerstones of her artistic endeavors. She recalls her engagement. 

“I went to all the bridal places, and I thought all the dresses they were selling were just crap. So I was like, ‘I can do better than this,’” she says. She ended up making every single one of her bridesmaids’ dresses—including gowns for the flower girls, too. 

But she kept her passion hidden. During her time on the Today show, she was met with opposition when she revealed she wanted to speak about her passion for needlecraft, which brought her fulfillment. The show experts called it unprofessional and said “it wasn’t journalistic.” 

“And when I was on the Today show, they said, ‘Oh, for God’s sake, don’t talk about that. Please don’t mention that you’re knitting. Lord, don’t tell him you’re decorating the baby’s room.’ Because I was pregnant at the time. So they made me not talk about the things that are super important in my life,” Norville recounts.

In interviews after leaving the show, she spoke freely about her sewing passion and was approached by a salesman of a small yarn company in North Carolina. He pitched the idea of collaborating with her to start a new line of yarn as a way to help grow their brand. With the company’s direct manufacturer in Turkey, the quality of the yarn was perfect. It was a no-brainer. The Deborah Norville Yarn Collection was born.

The brand was a hit. It enabled them to gain access to high-revenue stores such as Joann and Michaels to expand and sell a variety of yarns: sock yarn, baby yarn, chunky yarn, no-pill yarn. The line sold for nearly a decade, after which the manufacturer decided there was no need to pay a celebrity for a license fee. It was a bittersweet ending. 

“So while I was disappointed about that, it was great to be in that field for probably close to 10 years and really be able to think about my passions,” Norville says. 

Paying it forward

She’s had a lifetime in the journalism industry, and she’s used a good chunk of it to give back.

On January 4, 2024, Deborah Norville was awarded the Edward F. McLaughlin Lifetime Achievement Award from the Broadcasters Foundation of America. 

“I am honored to have been chosen for this recognition and the opportunity it gives to highlight our work at the Broadcasters Foundation,” she says. “I have been so blessed to have my career as a television journalist and feel supporting this organization all these years is one way of paying my debt of gratitude.”

Norville serves as one of the organization’s board members and helps in awarding grants nationwide to broadcasters in need. “It’s a way for people in our business to continue to live in dignity even though times get tough, and I can think of no higher work,” she says. 

Her advice for those entering the journalism field is to reach out to peers and experts and to connect, ask questions and keep after it, no matter how many times they hear the word “no.” She adds, “I like to think ‘no’ simply means ‘not right now!’”

Photo by CBS Media Ventures/Ben Watt